Ker HC | Nature of offence ought to have cautioned the Investigating Officer to subject her to psychiatric evaluation; HC extends benefit of doubt to woman accused of triple murder

Kerala High Court

Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of K. Vinod Chandran and M.R.Anitha, JJ., acquitted a woman convicted for matricide and maternal filicide due to failure of investigating officer to examine sanity and mental soundness of the accused. The Bench remarked,

“The mindless killing of an old lady and two minor children that too the mother and daughters of the accused, ought to have cautioned the Investigating Officer and there should have been an enquiry held and the accused subjected to a psychiatric evaluation, immediately after the occurrence.”

Facts of the Case

The issue arose out of the conviction and sentence passed against the accused by the Sessions Court convicting her under Sections 302 and 309 of Penal code and sentencing her to undergo imprisonment for life. The accused had been convicted for intentionally causing death of her mother and two daughters aged 8 and 6 years, by slashing on their neck with knife. Further, she attempted to commit suicide by inflicting a deep cut injury on her neck but survived due to timely medical intervention.  The accused had denied all the incriminating facts and circumstances and stated in addition that she had been a mental patient at the time of incident; as also before and after.

The counsel for the accused had thrust upon the ground of infirmity in the investigation in not conducting an enquiry as to the mental state of the accused in spite of there being evidence to the factum of the accused having been subjected to treatment for mental problems. It was submitted that various aspects highlighted from the evidence gave rise to a reasonable doubt about the mental condition of the accused at the time of occurrence, which would entitle her for benefit of the exception and consequent acquittal.

Matricide and Maternal Filicide

Opining that the records produced lead to an irresistible conclusion that injury sustained to the accused was one arising from a suicidal act, the Bench stated that the evidence adduced in the case eschew any chance of criminal trespass into the house by any other person for commission of the act. Hence, the finding of the Sessions Judge that the accused caused the death of her mother and children and she attempted to commit suicide was perfectly in order. It had been established beyond reasonable doubt that the incident occurred as had been narrated by the prosecution through their witnesses and the accused having committed the dastardly act of fatally injuring her own mother and children, also attempted to kill herself.

Insanity as a General Defense

On a close scrutiny of the evidence adduced, the Bench was of the view that the accused had not discharged the onus of proving the unsoundness of mind at the time of commission of the offence. The Senior Lecturer (ENT) to whom the accused was referred for emergency tracheostomy with neck exploration for repair of the neck injury, immediately after the incident, had advised psychiatric consultation. Evidence of Psychiatric Consultant, certificate and case sheet would prove that accused had undergone treatment for delusional disorder. Family history of psychosis of father, nephews, maternal sister was also brought out through the evidence. The discharge card of the accused would also prove that at the time of first admission diagnosis was schizophrenia. The Bench opined,

“The evidence brought out during trial would prove that she had undergone treatment for delusional disorder before four years of the incident and after one year of the incident she had undergone treatment for schizophrenia. But no evidence is forthcoming about the state of mind of the accused at the crucial point of time, i.e.: at the time of the incident.”

Reiterating that every person who is suffering from mental illness ipso facto is not exempted from criminal liability, the Bench stated, there is distinction between legal insanity and medical insanity and Courts are concerned with legal insanity and not medical insanity.

The nature of the acts also; the mindless killing of an old lady and two minor children that too the mother and daughters of the accused, ought to have cautioned the Investigating Officer and there should have been an enquiry held and the accused subjected to a psychiatric evaluation, immediately after the occurrence. In Devidas Loka Rathode v. State of Maharashtra, (2018) 7 SCC 718 the Supreme Court had set aside the concurrent findings of guilt against the accused under Ss. 302 and 324 of Penal Code, holding that in view of the previous history of insanity of the accused, it was the duty of an honest investigator to subject the accused to a medical examination immediately and place that evidence before the Court and if it is not done, it creates serious infirmity in the prosecution case and benefit of doubt has to be given to the accused. Therefore, the Bench stated,

“Investigation shall not be confined to the acts committed by a person. Depending on facts and circumstances of the case many other relevant facts also have to be investigated in the light of the provisions contained in ‘General Exceptions’. It is only then, an Investigating Officer will be able to confirm whether the act committed by a person is an offence or not as defined in IPC subject to what is contained in ‘General Exceptions’.”

Findings and Decision of the Court

Matricide and maternal filicide followed by an attempt to commit suicide were the offences proved to have been committed by the accused. The Bench opined that normally a lady will not be able to do such gruesome act solitary or at a stretch. The evidence of the doctor, who treated her, would prove that psychiatric consultation was given to her the details of which were not attempted to be brought out in evidence by the Investigating Officer. Proceedings of the Sessions Court would also show that even before framing charge, a memo was filed stating that accused was a mental patient and that she had undergone treatment at Mental Health Centre before trial. Hence, it was very clear that the investigating officer was aware of the psychiatric treatment undergone by the accused before the incident and the psychiatric consultation immediately after the incident while undergoing treatment for throat injuries. Therefore, if the Investigating Officer was fair enough and wanted to bring the true facts before the Court he would have made an enquiry into the aspect of the soundness of the mind of the accused.

“Peculiar nature of the offence of matricide and filicide of two small daughters coupled with the factors brought out during investigation ought to have been taken into account by the Investigating Officer to subject the accused to medical examination immediately after the incident to ascertain the soundness of mind of the accused at the crucial time of the incident.”

And failure to do the same had created serious infirmity in the prosecution case which would entitle the accused to benefit of doubt and consequent acquittal. In other words, the evidence adduced created a reasonable doubt in the mind of the Court about the mens rea of the accused that would enable the accused to benefit of doubt. Accordingly, the conviction and sentence of the accused was set aside. Noticing that the accused had been under confinement for the last ten years and eight months, the Bench directed that she be kept in safe custody as provided under Section 335(1)(a) CrPC r/w Section 103 of Mental Health Care Act, 2017 in a Mental Health Care Establishment. It was also left open to the State to direct the appellant to be delivered to any of her relatives or friends as per Section 339 CrPC or to release her as per Section 338 CrPC.[Lalitha v. State of Kerala, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 2426, decided on 09-06-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance before the Court by:

For the Appellant: Adv. P.K.Varghese

For the State: Public Prosecutor

For Atrocities against Women & Children & Welfare Of W & C: Adv. Ambika Devi S

One comment

  • Even a cursory reading of the Judgment reveals the fact that the investigating officer was quite aware about the psychiatry treatment the accused was undergoing at the time crime. It appears rather a vindictive act to get punish the accused for the gruesome murder despite her mental infirmity than a rehabilitative approach on the part of Investigating office which the Judgment aptly exposed. it should be appreciated the Court’s concern to Medical Insanity than Legal Insanity and the appropriate protective measures to the accused.

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